Based in Pittsburgh Astrobatic to send its CubeRover platform to the moon under a new NASA award. The company will use the CubeRover to test technologies for lunar night survival and long-distance communications on the lunar surface.
Surviving a moonlit night is more difficult than you might think. Nights on the moon are long—up to 14 days of darkness—and cold, with temperatures dipping below -200 degrees Fahrenheit. Such low temperatures pose a serious threat to power components such as batteries, and have effectively stopped many lunar missions before they even begin.
That’s a big challenge for NASA, which intends to conduct long-duration lunar missions with landers and uncrewed rovers by the end of the decade. Eventually, the space agency intends to establish a permanent presence on the moon through it Artemis program. But for this, thermal systems must work around the clock.
To solve this problem, the CubeRover will test thermal systems capable of withstanding prolonged darkness and extremely low temperatures. Astrobotic will also demonstrate this technology, which it is developing under a subcontract with Advanced Cooling Technologies, Inc. on the Peregrine and Griffin landers.
The CubeRover will also demonstrate the ability to communicate with satellite relay systems. Many existing rovers rely on the main lander to act as a relay to communicate with Earth using existing protocols such as Long Term Evolution (LTE). But such systems depend on a continuous line of sight between the rover and the lander. This creates serious disadvantages in how far the rover can travel.
“This mission has the potential to usher in a new era of robust lunar robotics, where instruments and payloads can survive on the lunar surface for months to even years,” Mike Provenzano, Astrobotic’s director of lunar surface systems, said in a statement. “With this flight, the CubeRover will survive longer and travel farther than any lunar rover in its class, making Astrobotic an important step forward in opening up the Moon for sustainable long-term robotic operations.”
The contract is funded by NASA’s Sequential Phase II Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The space agency’s SBIR program designed to finance small businesses, entrepreneurs and research programs, and it has three phases; the third and final phase enables awardees to commercialize their technology at NASA or in the private sector. Astrobotic did not disclose the amount of the award.
Two Astrobotic landers will also go to the moon under NASA contracts. Peregrine will go to the moon this year as part of the $79.5 million Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program; a larger lander, Griffin, will send NASA’s VIPER rover to the Moon in 2024, also as part of the CLPS program. Initially, the launch of the mission was planned in 2023, but the agency announced in July this was delayed for one year due to the need for additional tests on the lander.